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the other side in the NY Times Mag 9/17


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I'm not even sure why I am posting this or what I expect as responses, but I just read a very disturbing account of a teen hustler that shows one account of the other side of hustling. The article is called "His Only Address Was an E-mail Account on page 80 of the Magazine. I hope that the boys I have been with do not even vaguely feel like this kid about sex for pay. It paints a completely different picture then what I see on this side of the escort-client relationship.

 

Anyone else read it that has any thoughts?

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Here is the URL for the article.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/library/magazine/home/20000917mag-nussbaum.html

 

Because it may not be up long, I will post the entire article without permission but with all credits. I hope the Times understands.

 

His Only Address Was an E-Mail Account

A gay teenage runaway, he decided he'd rather be on the streets of New York than back home.

By EMILY NUSSBAUM

 

Name: Alex Aborlleile

Age: 19

Coming from: Philadelphia

Looking for: Escape

 

 

Part Midnight Cowboy, part Holly Golightly: Alex searches for a new life in New York. Photograph by Edward Keating.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

hen Alex Aborlleile arrived on a bus from Philadelphia in March, he walked into Port Authority carrying a couple of dollars, a backpack and a bag of oranges. He was 18. A skinny Cuban-American kid with Bambi eyes, he wandered onto Eighth Avenue, merging with the crowd on the sidewalk. Like most new arrivals, he was stunned by his first sight of Midtown Manhattan. "My mouth was agape," he recalls. "It was huge." Alex had no place to stay, no friends, no family. All he had was a plan, the same one he'd been following for almost a year.

 

 

Alex asked a passer-by for directions, and after several false starts, found his way to 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue. He walked up the immense marble steps into the grand foyer of the New York Public Library, with its swooping archways and glittering chandeliers. Upstairs, in a wood-paneled room, Alex found a bank of computers. He logged onto the Web. Since running away from home at 16, Alex had amassed more than 10 free e-mail accounts, with screen names like "ImpishBoi" and "ElusiveObserver." Within an hour, he was chatting with an N.Y.U. student, angling an invitation to his dorm room. He got it. That night, when the two of them traded sex for housing, it was a subtle hustle neither one acknowledged out loud.

 

It was also precisely the kind of bargain Alex had come to New York to escape. "I wanted to start over," he explained several weeks later at the Acme cafe on Great Jones Street. He raised an eyebrow and added dryly: "I got morals, you might say." Alex's forehead was speckled with glitter, and he gulped glass after glass of water, trying to rehydrate after a late night. New York, he said, was the ideal place for reinvention. It was an artist's city, a place where a person could transform himself with little more than wit, Holly Golightly flair and an eye for beauty. He'd carried this fantasy with him since he left his family's turbulent home in Miami and began moving from place to place: Ann Arbor, Cleveland, Seattle, Philadelphia.

 

 

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Emily Nussbaum is a contributing writer for Lingua Franca.

 

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Such alchemy was harder than he had expected. In Philadelphia, certainly, his life had been spinning out of control. He was taking drugs, he'd been robbed, his heart had been broken. Darkest of all, Alex had been sexually assaulted: he had changed his mind halfway through a hustling session, but the john wouldn't let him leave. In a panic, Alex called his mother one night, after months of no contact. She agreed to pay for art school, and he faxed her the forms. But as she had many times before, she broke her promise. Three days later, he was on the bus to New York.

 

Manhattan, he imagined, could be his final destination. He would scramble at first, then apply to the Fashion Institute of Technology. He could make beautiful things, become something special himself. But first he needed a place to stay.

 

he next day, he had one: the apartment of another Internet connection, a closeted city official living on the Upper West Side who wanted a "rent boy." He could make some quick cash, Alex figured, and then quit prostitution forever. "It's a very degrading thing," he explained. "You can't think about the person. The person's not attractive. So I focus on the pure physical sensation. I keep my eyes closed, and it's all drama, like backstage at the Emmys. Go Camera 1, go Camera 2."

 

Alex had known he was gay since his early teens. But it was only seven months earlier, on his 18th birthday, that he had experienced -- all at the same wild party in Ann Arbor -- his first kiss, his first sexual encounter and his first toke of marijuana. The second time he had sex, he got paid for it.

He refused to see himself through the eyes of others -- as a criminal, as someone negligible or pathetic.

 

 

 

 

 

Doing sex for trade always made Alex feel numb and nihilistic. The uptown arrangement turned out to be "not happy," so after three days, he ducked out the door, taking only the money he'd earned. Then he walked downtown to Washington Square Park, bought five $20 bags of ketamine and took them all at once. He needed to get high to blot out the rent-boy experience, Alex said -- but also to think. "When you take K, you have five minutes to find someplace, or you'll fall down. But it's also the 'What am I doing with my life?' drug, the oracle drug."

 

Alex woke up without having arrived at any answers. It was cold, and he had no place to go. Disoriented, and feeling sick, he wandered into the West Village. Security was tighter than in other cities, where he'd been able to sneak into public buildings. He was stuck outside. One night Alex found a deep vestibule on Perry Street near a Laundromat and curled up inside. (A car circled the block for hours, a man inside staring out at him.) Another night, he huddled in the concrete alcoves of the waste-disposal facility across the street from St. Vincent's Hospital. Sometimes he'd grab a cup of coffee in a diner, then linger as long as they'd let him stay.

 

Alex struggled to get by on the streets. For food, he walked all the way up from the West Village to Grand Central and loaded up on free samples from Zaro's bakery, but mostly he didn't eat. One afternoon, he hooked up with another Internet source, a freelance writer in his 30's who lived on 14th Street near Alphabet City. The man talked about boys he had slept with, but the two did not have sex; Alex got the impression that the man felt sorry for him. He offered Alex a shower and agreed to store some of his stuff. But Alex couldn't stay the night: the writer shared the apartment with his girlfriend, a publicist.

 

Alex was starting to unravel. He didn't want to turn any more tricks, but he didn't know what else he could do. Then one April morning, wandering around Little West 12th Street, his hands purple with cold, Alex looked up and saw the sign for the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center. The building was closed until 9, but a staff member let him in, gave him a subway token and referred him to Safe Space, a shelter for homeless teenagers located in Midtown. Desperate as Alex was, it was a struggle for him to walk through the door. "I have this problem accepting help," he explained, then paused. "Taking charity means you have to admit you're at your lowest point."

 

or the rest of April, Alex stayed in the shelter, a brightly-painted place with cartoon hamburgers stenciled on the wall. Although he liked most of the counselors, the conditions were seedy: "It was just depressing, to wake up on this purple mat, with all these fat people breathing around you." And many of the residents traded in drugs and sex, violating house rules. Still, it was better than the streets.

 

 

Photograph by Edward Keating.

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And then he got a major break: the counselors at Safe Space informed him about a new program called Green Chimneys, which provides group housing for gay teenagers. The small, federally financed project offered food, housing and training in "life skills." He could stay in a free apartment for 18 months, provided he followed house rules, like a curfew. He moved into an apartment on West 109th Street the next day. As it turned out, the kitchen was overrun with cockroaches, and he hated his suite mates. But he made his own room homey and distinctive, with plants, stickers on the walls and the guts of various art projects in progress, including a parasol gleaming with leftover MetroCards and forks molded into anthropomorphic shapes. Next to his bed, he stuck a Post-it note reading, "In case of anger, rip off wall and tear into tiny pieces."

 

He even found a job, at a hip SoHo shop that sold kitschy toys. During the evenings, he would hang out at the West Village piers, which he had discovered were a magnet for black and Latino gay teenagers -- some of them living at home, others homeless or bunking at friends' apartments. It was a wild, fun scene, and he was popular there, "the pier god." In contrast to his wary relationship with tricks, Alex was flamboyantly romantic when it came to boys his own age. In early May, he found himself falling for a "beautiful, blond 16-year-old boy." One Ecstasy-fueled night, they had anal sex. It was Alex's first time. "He basically stole my last scrap of innocence," he said.

 

Soon afterward, Alex discovered that the 16-year-old had since slept with a mutual friend. Distraught, Alex went on a binge, ending up in the Port Authority, sobbing and writing a love letter as strangers steered around him. At 7 a.m., he wandered disconsolately through Times Square. As he had many times before, he felt tugged under by depression. His new romance was dissolving. Although he had met many people in New York, he felt he had no real friends. Alex had asked Safe Space for psychological help, and a doctor prescribed Prozac. But he fenced the pills.

 

Then in May, the owner of the SoHo store fired him when, Alex says, he was "way too open" about his personal history. Although he felt he was good at charming people in job interviews, Alex worried that his past might prevent people from ever trusting him. "I'm a Homo Hispanic Whore," he said. "That's a triple threat." He was tempted by trades that weren't so picky, like the booming Ecstasy economy. Selling pills at parties, he mused, could one day pay for tuition at F.I.T.

 

Why not apply for a scholarship? "I have a real problem with legal venues, student loans and all that," he said. "I don't like owing money." Turning tricks or offering drugs, he reasoned, might be dangerous, but at least he was providing a service. He'd never panhandled. "That's even lower than accepting charity; you'd have to be really, really desperate. And the looks that you'd get panhandling -- it's disturbing enough to make me not want to beg. You're setting yourself up for judgment."

 

fter months of walking everywhere, Alex was starting to feel more at home in the city. His days began to take on odd, floating patterns: the pier (unless he was avoiding someone), Times Square, hours browsing in a Barnes & Noble. He went to bargain movies at Worldwide Cinema on 50th Street, and sat in midtown cafes analyzing the crowds. "At Lincoln Center," he said with awe, "You can smell the rich people." He loved Chelsea's coffee shops, but the muscle boys intimidated him. The West Village was his favorite, the "gayborhood." He fantasized about owning an elegant apartment there. Perhaps he could get himself a "patron" -- someone to support him and his art, but with whom he wouldn't have to have sex.

 

 

Photograph by Edward Keating.

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But it was hard to work toward a West Village future. Right now, everyone else had money but him; he hated his "poverty life." One July afternoon, he ran his finger down the shelves at a Vitamin Shoppe on the Upper West Side, talking about how easy it was to turn herbal supplements and cold remedies into sellable street drugs. Just melt them together on the stove, he explained as a wary store owner eyed him from a distance. As for his own drug use, Alex made a shifting series of rules: no drugs in the apartment (an offense that could get him kicked out of Green Chimneys); selling but no using; pot but no Ecstasy. But it was tough to stick to the rules when life was so hard.

 

And then there was the contradictory lure of hustling, a lure that sharpened with each romantic collapse, each friendship gone sour. Maybe, he worried, his boyish sexiness was all he had to offer. One day on the pier, flipping through the local bar magazine HX, he saw an ad for a job performing erotic massage. He called, and the owner invited him to Chelsea for an interview. The discreet office was luxurious, with health-club accommodations. He'd be slipping, he knew, into his old ways. But he'd also get paid $100 per shift, plus tips -- a lot of cash, enough to afford taxis and dinners out. He took the job.

 

The owner assigned him a shift later that week. But before Alex could keep his appointment, a crisis intervened: the Green Chimneys counselors threatened to toss him out after he missed curfew several days in a row. Sobbing hysterically, he threw himself on their mercy. "I told them: 'All I want is structure! I want to do good!' "he said. "I told them about the massage job, and they talked me out of it." ("Some kids pretend to be upset, but Alex was really upset," recalled Gary Mallon, the director of Green Chimneys. "He's a smart kid and kind of delicate too. And you know, some kids need a third or fourth chance to get it right.") Alex vowed to stay off drugs and, despite his misgivings, to apply for a scholarship.

 

He felt confident that once he got into art school, he would ace it. Though he had dropped out of high school -- it had been impossible to study at home, he said, and he was too depressed to concentrate -- he read voraciously. He would bubble over on subjects like Rene Magritte or Japanese comics. His heavy black notebook was filled with sketches and ideas, as well as eccentric coinages like "plastick" (with a "k" for kitsch), a word to describe his own developing aesthetic.

 

Such talk could sound like bravado or pretension. "I am an artist," Alex once said stiffly of his plans to attend F.I.T. "My life is art." But there was something impressive about the way he refused to see himself through the eyes of others -- as a criminal, as someone negligible or pathetic. Why be meek about his past, or pretend it hadn't happened? Instead, he was trying to view it all as "material," as a New York adventure that would someday pay off creatively. If he was going to stand out from the crowd anyway, he wanted to draw that border as a dramatic, ink-black line.

 

ay Pride Day, June 25, was Alex's 19th birthday. Alex had planned to march with Safe Space as their "condom fairy." But it was broiling hot, and he ended up sleeping in. He wasn't feeling especially festive, anyway. He received only one birthday present: a greeting card from his mother, with a terse message he interpreted as "Have a nice life." Alex ceremonially tore it in half, then lit a match, and when the card flared out of control, tamped it out in the kitchen sink.

 

More and more, Alex thought of his separation from his family as a healthy thing. His mother was abusive and untrustworthy. His first memory was of his stepfather, a wedding videographer his mother had married when Alex was 3, throwing him across the room. The violence continued throughout his childhood. As for his biological father, Alex had never met him: "All I know about him is that he was an illegal alien with bad teeth," he explained mordantly.

 

Three weeks later, on July 14, Alex sat in the lobby of the Adolescent Health Center at Mt. Sinai hospital. He was waiting for the results of an H.I.V. test. "It's just something you don't want to think about," he murmured. Despite the prostitution, his behavior had been fairly low-risk, he estimated. Sitting in an office decorated with children's palm prints in red, blue and yellow paint, Alex was visibly nervous.

 

Finally, he was called in. When he emerged, he was glowing with excitement. "Check it out! Check it out!" he called jubilantly to a nurse he knew, waving the form in her face. "I don't have H.I.V.!" She congratulated him. "After 200 penises, you know, you'd be worried, too." Alex grinned. He loved to shock people with such statements.

 

But over granola pancakes at a local diner, he was more somber. "Yeah, it's a huge relief," he said slowly. "It's, like, a clean bill of health. It means you actually survived the past, you can leave the past without any permanent scarring." Once again, things were looking up. He was set to take the test for his G.E.D. He was meeting with a representative from F.I.T. He was applying for jobs: Urban Outfitters, Old Navy. And he'd been drug-free for two weeks, staying away from the piers, which he now called "the isle of the Lotus Eaters." Still, to make extra money, he was toying with participating in an Ecstasy deal -- involving a strain called Aladdin's Lamp. And he hadn't written much lately in the artist's notebook he carried around; it was frustrating, he said, planning art projects he couldn't afford to make.

 

Would Alex be able to remake himself? It was easy to forget that all of this -- the hustling, the drugs, the romances -- had happened in less than a year. Despite everything, he seemed oddly unjaded. There was a playfulness to him, an enthusiasm that was almost nave. He was still searching for his imagined set of friends, he said: his "little cognoscenti."

 

In any case, Alex wasn't sorry he came to New York. His life, he explained, was like a glass of water. Sometimes it would get shaken, but eventually the surface would turn smooth. "It's perfect here," he said, with a hopeful grin. "It's like, you can be honest, be who you are, whoever you are. And because there are so many people, doing so many kinds of things, in the end, people will respect you for it. That's the freedom."

 

 

 

 

HooBoy

Email: [email protected]

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I agree with Jeejer. I read the article over breakfast this morning and was overcome with sadness when I thought about the fact that this kid isn't the only one, and NYC is not the only beach where they wash up. (Of course, even if he were the only one in the world, it would still be sad.) I wonder if there might be something that those of us gay men who are in a position to help these kids could do so. In a way, they are our children.

 

Even so, while I was reading this piece, I thought about M4M and the escorts we know through this site. So far as I can tell, all of them are operating on their own choice; and for the most part the names that appear over and over belong to men not boys.

 

If anybody has any thoughts or even knowledge about "rescue" places like Green Chimneys, I'd like to know them. Thanks, Jeejer, for bringing this up. And thanks, too, HooBoy, for posting the article.

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I don't mean to sound cold or crass, but although I wear clothes, I don't feel personally responsible for workers in Chinese sweatshops, and although I drive a car, I don't feel responsible for exploited Malaysian rubber workers; so although I hire escorts, I don't feel particularly responsible for boys like Alex. Despite the journalist's attempt to romanticize him, he has in fact chosen to be a hustler. That doesn't mean that anyone is justified in abusing him or taking unfair advantage of him, and I suspect that if I actually encountered him I would want to take care of him in a non-sexual way, because he is pathetic and vulnerable. He represents one of innumerable kinds of misery in this world, and if you want to try to do something to help, that's fine, but don't do it out of a misplaced sense of guilt because you're a john.

 

I'm more disturbed by the fact that articles like this one give the public the impression that ALL male prostitution looks like this, when the readers of this website know that many escorts are self-conscious, willing entertainers who do it because they want to do it, much like Broadway performers (and sometimes they do better financially than chorus boys). The Alexes of this world, unfortunately, probably are no more successful as "artists" than as hustlers, but that aspect isn't of interest to the media, because then they can't blame it all on dirty old men who lure them into a life of degradation.

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Guest Tampa Yankee

LAST EDITED ON Sep-18-00 AT 05:23PM (EST)[p]LAST EDITED ON Sep-18-00 AT 05:06 PM (EST)

 

>I wonder if there might

>be something that those of

>us gay men who are

>in a position to help

>these kids could do so.

> In a way, they

>are our children....

>...

>If anybody has any thoughts or

>even knowledge about "rescue" places

>like Green Chimneys, I'd like

>to know them.

 

Each of us that is in a position to help can...it needn't require a lot of effort, just concern and a very little action on our part. Contact your local GLB organization (or United Way Agency) and ask for the name and address of the local teen GLB support organization -- make a contribution, money is usually their most pressing need.

 

And if you ever meet up with one of these unforunate kids, go out of your way a little to befriend them, clue them in on local support groups (now that you are knowledgable about them), buy them a good meal if they need one and provide them with cab fare (or drive them yourself) to the local support ogranization (or buy then a trip home if that is where they want to go). Occasionally your charity may be abused but the risk is worth it if only occasionally it comes to the aid of one of these kids and saves them from the abuses of the unscrupulous or the ravages of drugs. (At least that is the way I see it.)

 

Will is right, these are our children and we should support them. If they choose, as rational thinking adults, to go into the 'escort' business as a life style and means to 'make a living' that's one thing but they shouldn't be forced to make the decision as kids in order to survive.

 

While it may not be our fault that any of these kids finds himself in this situation, it is our collective responsibility as 'society' to see that they are not left to drift in this 'sea of dispair' until they crash upon the rocks. IMHO this is not the kind of thing we can rely on 'big brother' to take care of with our tax dollars. The last time I looked I didn't see GLB issues on the top ten list of his Things To Do. And sitting back and waiting for the other guy to do something about it is a sure recipe for getting nothing done!

 

Now, I need to look up some local ogranizations...

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LAST EDITED ON Sep-18-00 AT 06:12PM (EST)[p]LAST EDITED ON Sep-18-00 AT 06:12 PM (EST)

 

Those that have much want more, those that have nothing strive to survive. Who are we to judge another for their life or lifestyle, it is all circumstance. We are all quick to point fingers and say I am not responsible for that or he/she chose that or another - we all make those choices - some of us make better decisions than others and some of us don't have to decide where my next meal is coming from but what to eat next.

Speaking from experience, help those that are needy - granted we cannot fix everything - but just knowing you made a difference in someone's life if even for a moment, is worth more than anything that money can buy.

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Guest Tampa Yankee

One More Thought

 

The article has raised our consciousness about these kids and organizations that help them. However, troubled kids will exist as long as children are being born -- long after this article has receded into our distant memory -- and the support organization most likely will need support itself on a continuing basis.

 

If this cause is worthy of support now then it is also worthy of consideration to put these organizations on the list of those that receive annual contributions. (An obvious thought not left unspoken.)

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Guest regulation

I don't feel guilty about wearing clothes made in the Third World because I'm aware that many of the people who make them don't have a better alternative to their current jobs. I do feel ambivalent about prostitution in this country because I know that many of the people involved are teenage runaways like the kid in this article who lack the ability to make their own choices and need supervision, not exploitation, by adults. I don't think I've ever done anything that encouraged such kids to prostitute themselves. But when I hear people say that prostitution should be legalized, I can't help but think that such action would make this problem worse.

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Surely it is possible to write a law that would allow for the kind of escorting that we usually talk about on most of this site yet still outlawing whatever is actually needed to solve problems like this. It isn't necessarily all one way or all the other.

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I read the story and have mixed feelings. I can't possibly know what it is like to be a runaway, because I had a great relationship with my parents. What I did identify with was his depression. I went through it and I'm quite certain that a lot of men that participate in this forum did as well.

 

I feel for Alex, but let's face it, he is an adult now and must make decisions that will make him a productive member of society. Instead, he is wrapped up in the drug culture that seems to define gay culture today. He is fully aware that he can make money from selling drugs.

 

As someone pointed out earlier, these boys on the streets are our children and we should watch out for them. I also feel the same way about the drug culture that continues to plague our world. The fact that the two are intertwined is not surprising.

 

I feel bad for Alex, but he and others like him have to accept responsibility for their actions. The Alexes of this world must take advantage of the opportunities to get a hold of their lives through the social programs that are available.

 

I agree that we should help out these kids out and instead of buying some "party favors" some weekend, we should make contributions to an organziation that will help the Alexes of the world. Maybe another way to help out would be to become a "big brother" to these kids and become a mentor.

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I bet if you gave this kid a million dollars in a years time he would be in the same boat. We all wanted to be firemen or artists or something like that at one time. But some of the wingnuts who are counseling him ought to tell him if he wants to be an artist his living conditions are going to pretty much be like this for about mmmm forever. Something also tells me he isn't the little victim the paper has made him out to be.

 

I feel bad for anyone who is on the street and am the biggest sucker for a panhandler. But I came to N.Y. two years ago with a suit, a laptop, huge student loans, and a room in a boarding house. But I got a job! Someone ought to tell him to get some job skills and move on. The old teach him to fish thing.

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